Mililani might not come to mind quickly as a traditional, longtime powerhouse of Oahu high school football. Those would be the Interscholastic League of Honolulu big three of Kamehameha, Punahou and Saint Louis, and Farrington, Kahuku, Waianae and maybe Leilehua from among the public schools of the Oahu Interscholastic Association. Others come and go, depending on how well they do year-by-year.
But the Trojans — from a new school compared to those old standbys — have steadily built a solid program, and their No. 2 ranking sets them as the top public school team in the state this fall as the postseason gets into full swing.
Punahou, the only team to beat Mililani this season, is also the only one ranked ahead of the Trojans and enjoys the advantage of being able to draw players from anywhere it chooses.
Saturday, at the stadium named for John Kauinana, their first coach and long-time athletic director, the Trojans handled their rival from up the road in Wahiawa for a second time this season, beating Leilehua 21-9 in their OIA Red West playoff game for a seventh straight win.
Other than one play that ended with quarterback McKenzie Milton on the receiving end of a 42-yard pass, it was nothing fancy. Just speed and power on both sides of the ball, augmented by some crafty play-calling to build a 21-2 first-half lead when the Trojans looked like their ranking.
There were a few tense moments in a lackluster second half due to turnovers, but nothing the Trojans couldn’t overcome with their overall superiority, punctuated by back-to-back sacks by Rex Manu and Kaimana Wilson to seal the win.
It used to be the other way around almost whenever the Mules and Trojans met; in the Prep Bowl era, it was always Leilehua that advanced to the big games. Since the advent of the state tournament in 1999, the Trojans have had just two losing seasons.
The greatest player in the program’s history, Ma‘a Tanuvasa, watches intently from the press box. He remembers when the Trojans struggled to field a team with 26 players. The future University of Hawaii star and Denver Broncos sack master and owner of two Super Bowl rings played about five different positions on the 1987 Mililani team. Mililani now has 79 on its roster.
Tanuvasa regularly attends Broncos reunions, except when they conflict with Trojans homecoming, like one did this year. He coaches on the junior varsity, where his son is a linebacker.
"The (varsity) coaching staff is great and the kids really buy into the program now," he said. "Coach Rod (York) works on campus (as a math teacher) and that makes a huge difference."
Mililani has been close to the top in the state for a few years now. In the first half Saturday, the Trojans looked like world-beaters. The second half, not so much against a pesky rival. The Trojans are young, but is it their time to reach the pinnacle?
"That feeling is every year," Tanuvasa said. "I felt that way in the past. But this team is pretty special."